In the orthodox Jewish tradition, the funeral takes place very rapidly after death. But mum and dad had opted out of the orthodox way and had planned to be cremated. Hence the week’s interval between dad’s demise and his funeral.
The funeral took place at South London Crematorium/Streatham Park Cemetery at 14:30 that day. The funeral was officiated by the Streatham Liberal Synagogue’s Rabbi. I wrote and read a eulogy which I shall upload here, with any other artefacts I think worthy of retention, when I go through the relevant papers.
We, family and friends retreated to the house in Woodfield Avenue after the funeral, for a simple reception. I think Janie and I (which means Janie, really) organised the catering. A nice young woman whose name escapes me, who had quite recently catered a celebratory event for us. Janie will remember her name…
I know that Steve the window cleaner came that Friday morning, but I can’t remember whether I got the call from mum before, during or after his visit. Soon after Steve left, I think.
Dad had collapsed at the foot of the stairs trying to get up to bed the night before; mum had found him there in the morning and called an ambulance.
My recall is very patchy. Dad was unconscious when I got to St George’s Hospital. I remember hanging around for quite a long time with mum and seeing a specialist with her and Janie quite late in the day. I remember the specialist explaining that one of dad’s hips had broken when he collapsed, but that basically the scans revealed that dad was riddled with cancer and there was nothing they could do other than keep him comfortable and free from pain.
I think mum insisted that we just take her home on that Friday; I recall she was much calmer that first day than on the subsequent days.
On the Saturday, Janie and I had arranged to see Charlotte for the evening – I think she came to us for dinner and I think we went ahead with that at mum’s insistence. Dad had not really regained consciousness on the Saturday in any case, so there was little we could do. Mum was in “I can cope” mode.
I recall that dad was conscious when we visited him on the Sunday. He was positive and upbeat (the doctors had told him they were checking everything out and would do everything they could for him, which I suppose was true in a way) but he was high as a kite on painkillers and told us some rather strange stories about stuff that had happened in the night, which must have been dreams or hallucinations but clearly were very real memories to him in his drug-fuelled state.
Mum was not in a good way by the Sunday – really very anxious and distressed, I felt. Janie was with us that day. I think we took mum to some sort of a restaurant place on Garrett Lane (more Wandsworth than Tooting). Janie recalls that she perked up quite a lot during that meal/distraction.
I was going to go again on the Monday after gym anyway, but while at the gym got the call (via Janie) that dad had died peacefully overnight. Naturally I went straight to St George’s to join mum. Mum was strangely calmer that day; probably exhausted more than anything else. Probably also in shock. In any case, from that point on, the process of going through formalities takes over for a day or so and I was able mostly to lead on those. Numb still; my memories of the subsequent formalities are also a bit of a blur.
A painful memory, this one. Not for the dinner itself, which was a culinary and social success, celebrating Janie’s birthday.
Painful, because we now know that dad only had a few weeks to live. There were just a couple of clues on the night.
Dad was just shy of 88 and was finding it harder to get in and out of the car without help, but on this occasion he needed a lot of help; far more than he had needed before.
The other clue was that dad didn’t finish his meal. He said the food was very good but that he didn’t have the appetite for any more than he had eaten. This was a very unusual thing for dad to do/say, but we thought little of it at the time.
In fact, dad was riddled with cancer by then. In early August, when he collapsed and we were given the news that he was in such a bad way, the specialist couldn’t believe that he had been more-or-less symptom free until five weeks before he collapsed.
Edwina was a GP who went way beyond the call of duty.
For example, because I was…how should I put this?…more than a little fearful of my jabs as an infant, she came round to our house to dispense the vaccinations. On one famous occasion, when I was feeling particularly averse to being stabbed, Edwina indicated to mum that my rump might make a better target in the circumstances. I worked out the coded message and tried to bolt. The end result was a chase around the room and eventually a rather undignified bot shot delivered by Edwina under the dining room table – I was, later in life, oft reliably reminded by my mum.
This extraordinary level of pastoral care and attentiveness went beyond zealously inoculating reluctant Harris miniatures – Edwina and her family became close friends with our immediate family, Uncle Manny’s branch of the family and especially Grandma Anne:
In the early 1970s, at Christmas-time, my parents would go to Edwina’s house for a seasonal party, along with many other patients and members of the local community. Naturally, my parents plied Edwina and her family with gifts…many of Edwina’s other patients and guests most certainly did the same.
A strange tradition arose around that time, in which Edwina reciprocated our present giving by handing down a generous gift she would always receive from a family of wealthy Iranian patients; an enormous jar (I think a pound; probably twice the size of the jar shown in the photo below) of Iranian Beluga caviar:
Edwina and family didn’t like the taste of caviar. Nor did my dad, as it happens. But mum loved it and I acquired a seasonal taste for it too.
Each year, mum and I would eat Beluga caviar on toast for breakfast for the first couple of weeks of the year.
Even back then caviar, especially Beluga caviar, was very expensive. Not equivalent to the “critically endangered, barely legal, hard to get hold of” price levels of today, but still very much a pricey, luxury item.
I remember mum warning me not to tell my friends at school that I was eating caviar on toast for breakfast, because they would surmise that I was a liar or that we were a rich family or (worst of all) both.
There was only one problem with this suburban community idyll; Mr Knipe. Don Knipe. Edwina’s husband.
Don liked his drink. Specifically Scotch whisky. More specifically, Teacher’s, as it happens. A bottle of Teacher’s always formed part of our family Christmas gift offering, but that sole bottle formed a tiny proportion of Don’s annual intake.
Even when I was quite little, I remember being warned that Don Knipe was eccentric, that I shouldn’t pay much heed to some of the silly things he says, etc. But I guess as the years went on, Don’s eccentricities gained focus and unpleasantness. Specifically, Don’s views became increasingly and extremely right wing. He joined the National Front, at that time the most prominent far-right, overtly fascist party in the UK.
I recall one year, when I was already in my teens, my parents returned early from the Knipe/Green party. I learned that Don Knipe had acquired a large bust of Hitler, which was being proudly displayed as a centrepiece in the living room. My mother had protested to Don about the bust, asking him to remove it, but to no avail. Mum had taken matters into her own hands by rotating the bust by 180 degrees. When Don insisted on rotating Hitler’s bust back to its forward-facing position, mum and dad left the party in protest.
Mum explained to Don and Edwina that they remained welcome at our house but that she would not be visiting their house while Hitler remained on show.
One evening, just a few weeks or months later, I think, my parents had Edwina and Don (and some other people) around at our house. The topic of Hitler and Nazi atrocities came up. Don started sounding off about the Holocaust not really having been as bad as people made out.
My father stood up and quietly told me to go upstairs to my bedroom. I scampered up the stairs but hovered on the landing out of view to get a sense of what was happening.
My father was a very gentle man. I only remember him being angry twice in my whole life; this was one of those occasions.
“You f***ing c***!”, I heard my dad exclaim.
I learned afterwards that my father, not a big man but a colossus beside the scrawny form of Don Knipe, had pinned Don to the wall and gone very red in the face while delivering his brace of expletives.
I heard the sound of a bit of a kerfuffle, a few more angry exchanges, ending with “get out of my house”. Then I heard Don and Edwina leave the house. Edwina was weeping, apologising and trying to explain that Don doesn’t know or mean what he says.
The story gets weirder as the years roll forward. Edwina remained our family doctor, although social visits were now at an end. Uncle Manny’s branch of the family and Grandma Anne continued to spend a great deal of time socially with the Knipe/Green family.
Most importantly, for this story, the seasonal exchange of gifts remained sacrosanct.
For reasons I find hard to fathom, I became the conduit for the seasonal gift exchange. Why my parents (specifically, my mother, who organised the errand) felt that I would be less defiled then they were by visiting a household that displays a bust of Hitler, I have no idea.
Maybe it shows that mum had great confidence in my judgement such that, even as a teenager, I wouldn’t be corrupted by Knipe’s vile views…or his habits. But perhaps the lure of a huge jar of Beluga caviar was so great that all other concerns and considerations went out of mum’s mental window.
Anyway, for several years I would go to Edwina and Don’s house to deliver our presents and collect the fishy swag. I think there was an unwritten rule that I didn’t go into the large living room where Hitler’s bust lived; the Knipe/Greens had quite a large house – I would usually be received in a smaller front drawing room.
As I got a bit older, Don would ask me to join him for a whisky and a cigarette on these occasions; offers which I accepted.
My diaries are utterly silent on this annual ritual, other than, each year, the mention of the word “shopping” on one day in the run up to Christmas. I vaguely recall that I would always bundle the errand with my single little shopping spree to get small gifts for my immediate family. The shopping trip provided a suitable time window; a smoke screen (as it were) and a bit of a sobering up period from the underage drinking involved.
Don never raised political topics when I made those seasonal visits. He’d make the occasional oblique reference to it being a shame that he didn’t see my parents socially any more. I can’t recall what we talked about. I think he just asked me how I was getting on and we chatted vaguely about my family and the weather.
But I do recall what we talked about on my last visit in this ritual. 1981.
Grandma Anne never really recovered from the shock of Uncle Manny’s demise and died in the autumn that same year.
By late December 1981 I had completed four terms of University at Keele and was far more politically aware/sensitive than I had been in earlier years.
Don greeted me at the front door, as usual, but this time said, “come through to the living room and have a whisky with me.”
“Not if Hitler is still in there,” I said.
“Oh don’t start all that”, blustered Don, who I think must have made a start on the whisky before I got to the house that morning. “I really want to chat to you about your late uncle and your grandma.” Don started to cry.
I relented and entered the forbidden chamber.
There was the bust of Hitler, resplendently positioned with books about the Third Reich and such subjects on display around it.
I accepted a generous slug of Teacher’s and a Rothmans; then I reluctantly sat down.
Don was crying. “I miss your Uncle Manny and your Grandma Anne so much”, he said, “you have no idea how fond of them I was. I love your family.”
I remember saying words to this effect, “Don, I understand that you sincerely love my family, but I cannot reconcile that love with Hitler, Nazi memorabilia, your membership of the National Front and you keeping company with those who hold such views. Those are antisemitic, out-and-out racist organisations and people. It makes no sense to me.”
“It’s not about Jewish people like your family. I love your family.”
“So what sort of people is it about?” I asked.
“Other people. You don’t understand”, said Don.
To that extent Don was right. I didn’t understand. I still don’t understand. It isn’t as if members of our family were so secular and Westernised that you wouldn’t recognise the family as ethnic. Uncle Manny’s branch of the family were (I believe still are) traditional, orthodox practitioners of Judaism.
So I don’t understand who or what these “other people” might be, nor why someone like Don Knipe would be attracted to racist ideologies, despite knowing (and even loving) plenty of good decent local people from diverse ethnic groups.
I think I was polite in making my excuses and leaving fairly quickly. The visit certainly didn’t end in any acrimony or hostility. But I did resolve not to run that errand again and (as far as I recall) didn’t visit the Knipe/Green house again.
All that memory came flooding back simply as a result of sampling caviar with Janie…
I had wondered, when looking at the photo batch, whether I had got some negatives mixed up, as it looked to me as though some pictures of my dad in Brighton had got mixed up with a day trip to Greenwich.
But the diary reminds me that we went to Greenwich twice, going to Brighton on the day in-between.
That summer was the first time in my childhood that we had no family holiday.
Dad must have been very short of money at that time – the business had been doing badly for a few years by then. Dad probably couldn’t justify the expense of getting someone else to run the photographic shop for any amount of time during those commercially better end of summer weeks, even if he could have afforded the holiday itself…which he probably couldn’t.
So he/we simply took a long bank holiday weekend – I suspect he just kept the shop closed until the Thursday.
I have done this as a photo piece using the picture captions to tell the tale; I think the pictures themselves tell most of the story.
Probably we enjoyed the lunch so much so that we didn’t get to see all the things we’d intended to see in Greenwich that day.
On 30 August, we went to Brighton. Only three photos from there that day – all of my dad being blown or blowing in the wind:
We clearly decided to return to Greenwich to finish our sightseeing on 31 August. We took lunch in the Cutty Sark this time, which I don’t think we liked as much as the Trafalgar Tavern back then, if I am reading between the lines of my diary correctly.
The weather looks miserable in the 31 August pictures, as does my mum:
Our machine was still playing (although not recording) when I let the scrap merchants take it to a better place in 2012.
The very end of the Hare and Guy Fawkes recording segues rather elegantly into the top three from Pick of the Pops:
Zabadak by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich
…which is followed by…
Massachusetts by The Bee Gees
Baby Now That I’ve Found You by The Foundations.
With the excitable tones of Alan “Fluff” Freeman between the tracks.
I have split the audio track into parts, but if you run the files contiguously they run entirely unbroken.
The segue works so well, I can only surmise that dad was experimenting with that recording after we had made the Hare and Guy Fawkes recording.
I am pretty sure I must have been watching him carefully and working out what it took to rig up the radio to the tape recorder and record from the radio.
The next 20+ seconds of tape is taken up with “gunk”, as I describe it in subsequent notes, which I think is my early attempts to work out to record, stop, pause etc. some done that evening, the rest the next day or just a few days later.
The following week I recorded the whole of the top nine from Pick of The Pops. I’ll up that material next week.
Don’t try to compare these charts with anything you see from the Official Charts; the BBC Pick Of the Pops charts didn’t work that way in 1967; they tried to second guess the chart standings by making a “chart of charts” from the NME, Melody Maker and several other chart sources which would all be published on different days and different ways. But the only logical dates for my recordings are 5 November 1967 top three, some gunk in between and then the 12 November 1967 top nine.
After that, I recorded a whole load of other pop music stuff to fill up that side of the tape.
It could only have been me making those recordings after the initial part of the 5th November recording; the cutting and hacking about is too amateurish to have been dad or mum. I also remember mum telling me in later years their mixture of horror and pleasure when they discovered me making my own clandestine recordings.
The reason this particular spool survived is because of the Hare and Guy Fawkes recording and also some other material which dad wanted to keep on the other side of the tape.
Most of the recordings I made as a child would have been wiped by subsequent recordings I made as a child. Tape wasn’t cheap.
There is one other tape of similar vintage that survived; with Pick Of The Pops from August 1968. Those recordings include Fluff Freeman’s fabulous chart rundowns, which the 1967 recordings sadly lack.
I’ll up the August 1968 ones when they reach their 50th birthday.
In the meantime, pop pickers, hit the above MP3 files for the Pick of The Pops top three.
But those others are, I believe, all quite a bit earlier than this Hare and Guy Fawkes one. I believe this 5 November 1967 one is the last of the readings tapes, not least because I think my personal interest in the tape recorder transformed at that time from passive listener to active recorder on our trusty Grundig TK-35. Another story – I’ll cover that story a little more below and separately later.
Grandma Anne had, I think, fairly recently been widowed for a second time (my Step-Grandpa Nat I only recall vaguely from when I was very small), so it became our habit to take Grandma Anne to that strictly kosher restaurant in Soho for Sunday lunch.
I recall liking the chicken soup and the chopped liver but not much else there. I also recall my father’s favourite dish being “boiled capon” – a large chicken cooked in broth. I don’t believe that the kosher restaurant capon was a castrated bird – I’m not sure that kashrut would allow even the circumcision of a cock of the poultry variety. I think it was simply a big old boiler chicken that would make a tasty broth; the slow cooking of the aged creature would soften what would otherwise be rather tough meat.
My Vietnamese-style dish, chicken cooked in its own broth, is an exotic and delicious variation on that theme, which Janie and I love as comfort food. I remember distinctly not liking the Folman’s version much as a child, it was nothing like as tasty as my mum’s chicken.
But I wildly digress.
On the recording, you can hear my mum in the background, in another room, having an argument by the sound of it. I’m not sure whether she is arguing on the phone or with someone else who is in the house who is talking far more softly than my mum. I might do some audio-forensics on the sound file one day and see if I can listen in on that aggro from 50 years ago.
The argument can only have been family stuff…probably family business stuff.
I’ll guess that the Hare and Guy Fawkes story-telling at that time was as much about getting me out of the way while the family argument played out as it was about anything else.
But I’ll also guess that my beady-little eyes were, at that time, working out how to make recordings, because the rest of that side of that tape is strewn with recordings from the radio. One of those recordings I believe was made the same afternoon/early evening; I’ll Ogblog that a little later today.
As with our other story book recordings, I ring a bell at the turn of the page. I think the idea of that was to help me learn to read by following the story in the book while listening to the tape.
I also interject with some questions at times, which is rather cute, but I interject less in this one than I did in earlier recordings. I guess the question I really wanted answered by then was, “how do I operate this machine so I can make recordings for myself?”
Here’s the Hare And Guy Fawkes sound file and book cover again.
Both of my parents, dad in particular, made recordings of my favourite books being read to me. This was mostly, I suspect, because they knew that I couldn’t resist fiddling with the old Grundig and so would listen to the recordings rather than nag them to read the book again. Fiendish, cunning and I very much approve.
One of those wonderful recordings is The Gingerbread Man, the very book that Joe over on King Cricket was complaining about having to read three times a day.
Always keen to help out, here is the recording of my dad reading The Gingerbread Man to a very little me:
I don’t have a picture of me around that time with that book, but I do have a picture with a similar book, long since forgotten and I don’t think ever recorded:
Simply adorable I was; goodness knows what went wrong.
I do still have my dilapidated copy of the Gingerbread Man. Not too many of my children’s books survived the cull, but (probably because of the recording) I couldn’t bear to part with that one.
Thanks for triggering the nostalgia, Joe. I’d been trying to pluck up the courage to listen again and start uploading these recordings to Ogblog. You gave me cause.